Kyoto has been Japan’s capital for most of the time and therefore is often referred too as the “real capital”. It is known for being well preserved and carrying lots of history and tradition, in comparison to modern Tokyo.
Kyoto will spoil you with bamboo forests, ornate shrines, temples, dressed Geishas and much more. You will also be able to learn about tea, art, Buddhism and other parts of Japanese culture.
Here are the most popular sightseeing spots in Kyoto you should not miss during your visit.
Most popular sightseeing spots in Kyoto
Arashiyama & Bamboo Forest
One popular sightseeing spot in Kyoto is Arashiyama, which is located on the outskirts of Kyoto. You will need public transportation to get there. Once you arrive there are loads of things to do. For example, you can visit the monkey park, cross the “Moon Crossing Bridge”, visit shrines and temples as well as the small village “Hamlet of Kiyotaki, or the bamboo forest.
Fushinara Inari Shrine
Another popular sightseeing spot in Kyoto is Fushinara Inari Shrine. It is one of the oldest and most popular shrine in Kyoto. You can easily spend a day wandering around there. It’s especially known for its beautiful red gates (Torii) which form a pathway all the way up to the top. On the top you will be rewarded with incredible views over Kyoto. Those gates have all been donated by families, people and companies.
TIP: When visiting make sure to wear good shoes as you need to walk uphill for a while.
Sightseeing makes very hungry. Therefore, visiting the 700 year old Nishiki market, also known as “Kyoto’s kitchen”, should be on your list. It is a market located in downtown Kyoto which makes it very easy to find.
On the market you will find loads of famous goods from Kyoto, such as dried seafood, pickles, confection, seasoning, dumplings, fish cakes, yakitori and much more. It is very affordable to eat there and you can even taste certain food first before buying.
It is the perfect place for hot or rainy days, as the whole market is covered up.
Gion – Geisha District
Gion is a district in Kyoto and another popular sightseeing spot in Kyoto. It is home to Geisha/Maiko dancers, and used to be the entertainment district back in the days. Nowadays, you can try to spot Geishas there, enjoy delicious food, dress up as a Geisha yourself or watch a dance performance (while dining).
If you go in the evening it will be very authentic and you will get a real feeling of how old, traditional Japan was. During the day you will also enjoy it as the architecture of the wooden houses is very beautiful.
You will also find theatres (e.g. Gion Kobu Kaburenjo) there which do traditional Japanese performances, including Geisha performances in April.
Yokai cannot exactly be translated as “ghosts”. It is more a collection of spirits, monsters, demons and ghosts which make up familiar faces and shapes in Japanese folklore.
These homemade figures can be found in front of shops on Yokai street. It is not a typical tourist attraction, but I found them pretty cool.
The Yasaka Pagoda is the most popular sightseeing spot in Kyoto. This famous landmark is located at the Hokanji temple. It is actually the most photographed place in Kyoto, so make sure to pass by. You can also go inside the Pagoda.
On the way there, you will pass through tiny alleys where you can enjoy food and refreshments, or buy some souvenirs.
Temples and Shrines
Of course temples and shrines belong to the most popular sightseeing spots in Kyoto. Apparently there are over 4700 temples and shrines in Kyoto, so there is no way you can visit them all. Instead of listing them all separately, I will tell you the most famous one, and you can check which one you would like to visit.
Here are some of the most famous temples in Kyoto: Hokanji temple, Kinkakuji temple, Kiyomizudera temple, Ginkakuji temple and Tenryuji temple.
The Kyoto Tower is the tallest building in Kyoto. You will be able to enjoy panoramic views over Kyoto from up there, all the way to Osaka. On the platform, important landmarks will be pointed out for you by telescopes and LED touch screens, so you know what you are looking at.
In order to catch a good price deal, check out Klook up front.
TIP: You will also have an incredible view if you visit during sunset hour.
Dine at a restaurant in Pontocho
Pontocho is a busy street with hundreds of restaurants, ranging from very expensive dining experiences to very inexpensive ones. Usually, the best restaurants are small, hidden, don’t advertise their menu in English, and cannot be found in a guide book.
Local and authentic experiences
There are loads of authentic experiences you can sign up for, such as tea ceremonies, kimono rental, samurai experience, dress up as a Geisha, cooking classes and much more.
- Cheap kimono rental in Kyoto
- Tea ceremony
- Samurai Experience
- Geisha Dress up
Take funny photo in photo box
If you have time for more fun, you should take some funny photos on the photo boxes. It is not like in Europe, where you just sit in the box, make some funny photos, and then the photo gets printed.
In Japan everything is colourful and cute. Therefore, you have the option to choose a background colour, paint bunny ears, hearts, quotes, and other symbols on your photos before they get printed. It’s very funny!
I hope you enjoyed those popular sightseeing spots in Kyoto and will visit one day. If you have visited other spots, please share!
Also check out the articles “10 Things you need to know before visiting Japan” and “Tokyo Travel Guide: How to travel Tokyo on a budget“.